PORTLAND, Maine — A congressional field hearing in the coming week on a proposal to create a national monument in northern Maine underscores how partisan lines have been drawn as Republican lawmakers try to rein in the expansion of public lands by Democratic President Barack Obama.
Republican Gov. Paul LePage will deliver opening remarks Wednesday, and he'll be followed by four others who oppose a proposal to donate 87,500 acres of land owned by the co-founder of Burt's Bees to the federal government. Two slots for supporters have gone unclaimed, meaning there will be no formal support.
Rep. Rob Bishop, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, is holding the hearing in East Millinocket at the request of Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin, who opposes the monument proposal.
David Farmer, spokesman for foundation that brought forward the proposal, called it "a sham hearing."
"They've stacked the deck here," Farmer said. "It's a political show. It's more about Bruce Poliquin's re-election and Paul LePage's ego instead of good public policy."
Obama has utilized his power under the 1906 Antiquities Act to create 23 national monuments that have protected 265 million acres of land and water.
And Bishop has been waging war over the issue, accusing the president of being overzealous in his efforts and of failing to get public input.
"The proposed monument designation in Maine's Katahdin region would be another abuse of the Antiquities Act, exercised unilaterally with complete disregard for local residents, businesses and elected officials," Bishop, R-Utah, said in a statement.
In Maine, the 87,500 acres east of Baxter State Park is owned by a foundation created by multimillionaire Roxanne Quimby, conservationist and co-founder of the Burt's Bees line of personal care products.
Her proposal calls for donating the land valued at $60 million and providing a $40 million privately funded endowment for operations and maintenance. Because of congressional opposition, the only way her goal can be achieved is if the land is declared a national monument by Obama.
National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis called the land and endowment "unprecedented" and has deemed the land worthy of protection.
But critics fear the national monument designation could stymie industrial development or lead to the taking of land by eminent domain.
Poliquin, who represents Maine's 2nd Congressional District, and fellow Republican, Sen. Susan Collins, oppose the proposal. Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree supports it. And independent Sen. Angus King is undecided after backing away from his past opposition.
Poliquin brushed aside criticism that the East Millinocket forum is political.
"I have encouraged all sides of this discussion to be heard and have invited key proponents and opponents to join," he said.